Sunday, 24 September 2017

Where's all the migrants?

The Safari was at the nature reserve fairly early this morning. Unlike our last visit there were plenty of Blackbirds particularly in the well berried Hawthorn hedge along the allotments. What a shame the farmers have already flailed off almost every berry on the roadside hedges round these parts - it's almost as if they don't want any wildlife in our countryside, those hedges have no shelter, no berries, no undergrowth and consequently probably hardly any invertebrates either. At least there's plenty of berries on the reserve although the Apples are taking a hammering from human thieves. 
A trio of Chaffinches flew over southwards as we walked down the track, a sign of some visible migration but we didn't see or hear much more, the seven incoming Tufted Ducks looked like they'd just flown across the field from the park lake. The usual look from the Viewing Platform gave us a decent count of two dozen Shovelers and hiding among them a couple of Wigeon, so there had been some migration over night or at least in recent days. Along with those were a few Teal, a couple of Gadwall and a reasonable number of Mallards, yet again no Bitterns or Otters though.
A quick peak under the refugium didn't give us any Great Crested Newts or Short Tailed Field Voles today - can't win em all! Down at Heron Hide a Cetti's Warbler sang briefly and a little further a Chiffchaff sang too. We only went as far as the scrape where we saw more Teal and half a dozen more Shovelers making about 30 in all, we'd seen a few flying down the mere on our walk down.
Making our way back we came across a Brown Hawker dragonfly and a couple of spikes of Toadflax still in flower at the side of the track.
A flock of four Jackdaws going steady south over the mere were likely to have been migrants but the two Reed Buntings that bunked in to the reeds were probably local birds so we were still short of some decent vis mig to record. It was then we had the morning's best sighting, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers came flying towards us, they then circled round the end of the reserve three or four times before dropping in to the top of the tallest tree. They didn't stay there long as within a few minutes they were both off south together, at last a bit of migration. A second Chiffchaff sang from the scrub beyond the large tree while we were watching the woodpeckers.
The walk back along the field was uneventful until we were caught up by LR and while chatting another Cetti's Warbler fired up from the wetland.
Once again we learned we'd missed the biggy, this time long after we left rather than the 'usual' five minutes, a Great White Egret (another missing off our Marton Mere list) but the two Ravens weren't more than half an hour after we'd gone...dohhh are we ever going to see these there???
In the afternoon we took Monty to his favourite field and as we were wandering around the rides mown through the new woodland we heard a Willow Warbler give a couple of short bursts of song. Further on a freshly deceased Short Tailed Field Vole was found on the side of the path, a victim of someone's dog or perhaps a cat we hadn't seen. A friend's dog started digging furiously after something in the grass, soil was flying everywhere. When Monty joined in we went to investigate and found a small Frog sneaking away through the grass. While the dogs' attention was still focused in the hole we took it away and put out of harm's way on the other side of the path. Then as we were leaving we spotted a bird dropping in from an enormous height, it turned out to be a Blackbird and it went straight into one of the thickest tallest clumps of older trees - interesting and likely to be a late mover looking for somewhere to root.
Where to next? There's a bit of a weather front moving through this evening so we might try that field again early doors tomorrow morning, the front might arrive a bit too early though.
In the meantime let us know who's ringing rings round you in your outback.


Friday, 22 September 2017

It might only be five minutes but arrrghhh!

The Safari is a little miffed! At the end of the previous post we told how we'd narrowly missed the Otter and a couple of Ravens down at Marton Mere well we did the same trick again the following day.
We took Monty for a wander along the cliffs at Chat Alley on the rising tide with the intention of looking out for the 10 Bottlenose Dolphins that had been seen in the far southern corner of the bay off Hilbre Island the day before. The sea was too choppy there were white horses everywhere so spotting any cetaceans was going to be very tricky especially as we only had our bins with us, they'd need to be really close in to be able to see them. So we concentrated on the cliffs themselves as we walked northwards. All very quiet until a single Wheatear was found flitting about dropping in to the long grass to pick off some morsel sheltering from the wind and then returning to a dried Dock stem, or suchlike, lookout post. No camera so no pic.
We walked almost the full length of the cliffs reaching the point where they sort of become more dune like than cliff like about 1 1/2 miles up. With not a lot happening and no 'friends' for the Monster to play with we turned round and headed back to the car. The Wheatear hadn't gone far and when we did stop for a doggy play we spotted a Turnstone on the seawall and a grounded Meadow Pipit on the steep grassy slope.
We got back to car at roughly high noon and drove off for Base camp and a cuppa. A little later we learned that an Osprey had passed a watcher not far to the north of our walk and probably would have coasted right over our head with ample warning from the local gulls had we only stayed out a few minutes longer - well you can't win em all but grrrrrrr all the same! There probably won't be any more opportunities to see Ospreys locally - but you never know there might just be a late one waiting in the wings.
In other news it does seem to be a good season for Red Admirals, this one was taken on Patch 1 but we've seen good numbers of them everywhere we've been - even the shops. Anecdotally to us at least it seems like we've seen more this autumn than we've seen for a very long time, if ever - they really are everywhere and some are on the wing in the cool of the early morning dog walks almost invariably heading south.
Let us know if you think there's exceptional, or at least large number of Red Admirals about this season. We'd like to be able to report that other butterflies are doing well too but other than Speckled Woods and a Comma or two we've struggled to find other late season species like Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells. We have seen a couple of day flying Vapourer moths though which look superficially like skipper butterflies at first glance.
The (not so) big news from Base Camp is that a large dragonfly, one of the hawker species, flew through yesterday but didn't stop, not even for five seconds never mind five minutes, and we've had a family of Greenfinches return to the sunny seeds after a lengthy absence.
Hope you've all had better luck than we have.
Where to next? Back to Patch 1 early doors where hopefully this ind with a bit of east in it might have dropped something of interest, otherwise it'll be the usual Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds to count. After lunch we might get out somewhere with Wifey and Monty
In the meantime let us know who's waiting until your back is turned in your outback.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Not quite dipping out

The Safari has been out most days this week. Most mornings we've been round Patch 1 at the crack of dawn mostly counting the Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens we come across. The other day we had a 'good' count of three Moorhens although with two juveniles around there should really be at least four present, and a singing Chiffchaff was a nice bonus to the usual 'extras' of Goldcrest(s) and/or Coal Tit(s)
Visible migration has been slow to get going, Patch 1 has only given us a single Chaffinch and a couple of Greenfinches which could have been local birds although we rarely see them in or over the park and these were quite high 'overs'. The same morning as the singing Chiffchaff we had one grounded at Base Camp too.
'Vis mig' over Base Camp has been limited to a solitary Meadow Pipit - where are they all??? - and a few skeins, up to a maximum of about 55 birds, of Pink Footed Geese. A Golden Plover flying over during an annoying Monty wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-take-me-out-for-a-pee-NOW was a bonus! We've probably had more Red Admirals migrating through the Patch than birds this week, there certainly seems to be a good number of them about.
After breakfast a morning saunter round Marton Mere reserve started at the lively Feeding Station. Good numbers of Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits and an acrobatic Grey Squirrel doing its best to squeeze at least a nose between the anti-squirrel wires around the feeder.
Along the path a Rabbit crouched motionless on the recently cut meadow area hoping Monty didn't spot it - we were hoping that too and holding on tight just in case he did! Fortunately for the Rabbit and our arm he didn't we were able to walk right past it within only a few feet without it being noticed by the Monster. 
All pretty quiet around the reserve with only a lone Meadow Pipit and a couple of Skylarks heard passing overhead.  Down at the Viewing Platform we heard a Water Rail squeal and a the first of half a dozen Cetti's Warblers sing a quick blast.
A sneaky peek under the refugium gave us our third mammal species of the morning in the shape of our first Short Tailed Field Vole of the year not counting the one being carried aloft by a Buzzard at Leighton Moss earlier in the summer. Also under there were a couple of Great Crested Newts, always good to see and especially good to see a juvenile even if it was trying to do a runner.
We gently picked it up and positioned it on a leaf for a better pic. The adult is a male, told by the white stripe down the centre of the tail which they wave amorously in front of the females during courtship. Seeing the juvenile was good news as it means we've had some local breeding success especially as the surveys undertaken earlier in the year came back negative and with worrying news that most of the ponds looked at had been stirred up so badly by dogs that they were now unsuitable for the newts to breed in - if the water's too turbid the females can't see those frantically waving tails! 
A Sparrowhawk and a brief glimpse of a Reed Warbler at the Heron Hide broke the monotony but then as we were leaving we heard a rustle in the long grass to the side of the hide. We could see the grass being disturbed by something fairly large at times too. Crikey! A family of Stoats exploded in to full view for a few milliseconds before vanishing back in to the undergrowth - excellent views if so fleetingly brief. We've not seen a Stoat for soooooo long so to see at least three was great - and our fourth mammal of the morning. A Goldcrest called from a nearby Willow too.
At the Fylde Bird Club Hide the view is still a bit hindered by the summer's Reed growth, need a strimmer, a large flock of roosting Starlings and/or another good gale to knock them down a bit.
Not a lot about, the usual suspects of Mallard, Coot and a couple of Gadwall with a fly-over Snipe. But then what's that big duck asleep over the far side - blimey a Pintail, (MMLNR #80). It's been a while since we caught up with one of those here too it was turning in to a decentish sort of a day! Shame it slept motionless all the time we were there, probably only dropped in from Iceland or the far north of Europe, perhaps even further afield, earlier that morning.
Moving on it was good to see the Snake's Head Fritillary meadow had been mown, lots of Meadow Cranesbill and Agrimony are present too but the number of Cowslips seems to be declining a bit. Perhaps due to the meadow become inundated with Common Reed for much of the summer.
Nothing else of note - where is that Bittern when you want it?
The following morning dawned rather chilly, the coldest morning since the end of last winter.
The cold hadn't brought anything new to Patch 1 though. After breakfast we set off east down the country roads to a little river we know. Looking downstream from the bridge it looks like this and moments later a Kingfisher sped through and straight under the bridge and out of sight. 
Our gaze followed the Kingfisher and fell upon our hoped for quarry for the day. A Dipper was feeding a few yards beyond the far side of the bridge - a little distant but hey ho at least Dipper (YBC #151) makes it on to our Year Bird Challenge tally doing what they do best - dipping!
Perhaps we might get a closer shot downstream so off we went passing a few Robins and a small flock of Long Tailed Tits as we walked along the river bank.
We got all the way to the end and only managed to flush another distant Dipper. On the way back we spotted another, quite likely the same one, that hadn't spotted us so we secreted ourself behind a tree and waited for it to walk/swim up the stream a bit and in to view. Thankfully it obliged.
Back at the bridge our first Dipper was nowhere to be seen but a Grey Wagtail flew down and had a bob around on a rock mid-stream.
A short but productive morning out.
This morning we went back to the nature reserve but it was desperately quiet. Looking under the refugium again had us disturbing the Short Tailed Field Vole again but now there were three juvenile Great Crested Newts - nice. As we hadn't made a note or taken a pic of the underside of the one the other day it was impossible to tell if one of these was that one or if none of these three were that one.
The best of the rest was a passing Mistle Thrush and we didn't even see a Blackbird all morning - told you it was quiet!
So quiet the next best thing we found was a fresh Shaggy Ink Cap fungus.
It didn't help when later we discovered we didn't quite stay long enough to see the Otter and a couple of Ravens, a species which has become much more numerous in the local area but which we've still not seen there.  Dohhhhh!!! can't win em all!
Where to next? We'll be out somewhere tomorrow but we're not sure where yet -0 could well be weather dependent.
In the meantime let us know who's doing the dipping in your outback.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Two trips to the Southside

The Safari has been enjoying the many superb pics of the recent Leach's Petrels along our coast - this one by young EM is a real humdinger! And what about these - awesome and a clever trick to get them. Unfortunately the wind didn't stay strong enough long enough or from the right direction for us a to get a pic of the little mites, yes we are a bit disappointed not to add Leach's Petrel to our Year Bird Challenge tally! 
We had to go down to the Southside on family duties on Thursday and to tire Monty out a little before we went visiting we had an hour's mooch around the excellent Lunt Meadows reserve. We say it's excellent but today it was rather quiet. The drive down had got our hopes up for a good morning's birding with a Jay flying over the car and both Buzzard and Kestrel seen close to the roadside in quick succession.
At the first screen the cattle were close by, Monty couldn't see them but he could sure smell them and was rather 'interested'! There is a small herd of Redpoll that undertake conservation grazing to create hummocky grassland for breeding waders and mud wallows for the birds to feed in.
We're not sure what species of Mayweed it is but the 'field' looked really beautiful and the cattle contrasted very nicely against it. with this fellow so close we weren't going to hop over the fence to investigate either and it's probably a good job he couldn't see Monty behind the screen too.
At the back behine the distant cows a small hint of movement caught our eye. A Brown Hare had poked it's head up out of a bit of a ditch for a look-around - our first of the year.
Something spooked it and it shot off at a slow gallop for a hare but a bit quick for us and the camera.
Bird-wise there was only a small flock of Lapwings on the pool and they were soon flushed by something unseen and flew over to the far pool - nothing for it but to follow them. 
We passed a couple of Red Admirals and a Small White butterfly on the way.
The sun came out at the next screen and nicely lit up the Lapwings which had now joined a larger flock.
With all the strong winds we expected there might have been a more exotic wader from more northern latitudes or even North America in the Lapwing flock or at least a Ruff, but no there were just a handful of Snipe secreted around the marginal vegetation.
There were a few gulls loafing in the shallows and snoozing on the small muddy island. Mostly Herring Gulls,  a couple of Lesser Black Backs and four Black Headed Gulls, but with the Black Heads was an obvious odd-man-out - a first winter Mediterranean Gull...Result!
A Water Rail was far too quick for us as it legged it across the mud below the screen, that was about the best of the rest and with time getting near to visiting time we legged it too.
We had one trick up our sleeve, close to the reserve is a barn which holds a pair of Little Owls. It's always worth the two minute detour even if we'd done it unsuccessfully a few times before - today was our lucky day! There in the dark recesses of the barn was a Little Owl (174, YBC #148) sitting on a beam and fortunately against the pale timber so a pic was possible for our Year Bird Challenge. Good to see one as we totally dipped out on this species in 2014 and 2016.
Now time was pressing but there are two roads you can go by but in the short run we chose to retrace our steps right rather than continue left. A good choice, turning off the 'main' road down the lane we used to call Ratty Road when we were birding round here on our bike many years ago a family of Grey Partridges (175) flew almost over our bonnet. Now had we been on our bike we could have just stopped but in the car we had to drive nearly half a mile to find somewhere to turn round and hope they'd still be in view. Only one was but maybe fortunately it was one of the adults, the well grown chicks were nowhere to be seen in the recently harvested field, they must have gone into the ditch at the side of the little wood. But how annoying it should stand behind the only remaining stalk of stubble in the whole field! (YBC #149).
Such exquisitely marked birds it's a real shame they are now so rare and generally hard to come by when in our youth we practically used to trip over them in these same fields. 
All too soon it followed the rest of the family into the ditch with a last look over its shoulder.
The following day we were taken by CR to the big reserve Martin Mere (there we've said it - we normally refer to it as the reserve we don't mention by name due to the similarity with 'our' reserve Marton Mere)
With a gentle wind just west of north this was going to be a Pink Footed Goose day and so it transpired as we saw a couple of flocks at height heading that way when we dropped Monty off at his minders. More were seen on the drive down.
The wink-wink sound of Pink Footed Geese wafted down from on high as small flocks began to arrive
Landing gear down - for the first time in 750 miles?
More and more arrived in larger and larger flocks too...spectacular!
They were landing out of sight in one of the reserve's fields away from the hide we were in so we had a little walk.
The next hide we stopped in overlooks a small pool which had a couple of Black Headed Gulls that were fishing for 3-Spined Sticklebacks with some success.
They were joined by a Heron which was successful too, many times! It all seemed a bit too easy and not good if you were a Stickleback!
Look at that - it must have somehow caught two at once but ended up dropping one - lucky fish!
Also on the pool briefly were a pair of Gadwall 
and a couple of Coot.
We didn't get a pic of the lovely Moorhen and totally missed the very brief visit by the Kingfisher.
Moving down to the farthest hide we searched through the scattered flock of Lapwings 
for a Ruff and eventually found one, a long way off. So far away this pic is enlarged by 200%
At long last Ruff (176) goes on the year list, how come it's taken until mid-September to come across one of these? And it just about qualifies for inclusion on our Year Bird Challenge bringing up our 150 species photographed. hopefully we'll be able to get a much better replacement pic before the year end - won't we?
Another Kingfisher zipped past along the dyke but didn't stop, while in the the dyke that joins this one an injured over-summering Whooper Swan won't have long for its mates to arrive from Iceland, they're usually not too far behind the Pink footed Geese.
The wander round the rest of the reserve didn't give us much more of note so we decided to cut our losses and head to Mere Sands Wood, a cracking little reserve we often helped out at during its formative years in the early 80s.
The main feeding station was quiet except for a couple of Chaffinches and a family of Dunnocks so we didn't stay long and anyway our main 'target' was away across the far side of the reserve. On the way we came across a nice Nuthatch (didn't get those here in the 80s) and a recently fledged still mostly spotty Robin at the woodland feeding station, no sight nor sound of the recent Willow Tit, the first here for a number of years although they were regular in the 80s.
A flock of Long Tailed Tits entertained us briefly at the first hide down this end of the lake but it was the next hide we wanted to be at. It was already full of eager photographers who told us the Kingfisher had been about but not showing at all well. Several perches have been positioned over the water to enable photographers to get 'the' shot...providing the bird behaves...which it wasn't today.
We waited a while hearing Jays shrieking in the distance until someone gave the call 'Kingfisher'...it landed on the most distant perch almost totally obscured by the tall heads of Willowherb from our seat. No good - it had gone by the time we'd managed to get the camera to focus on the perch rather than the intervening vegetation - it wouldn't have been 'the' shot either - too distant. There'll be more opportunities later in the year when the vegetation has either been cut or died back for the winter.
Leaving the gang of photographers to their wait we continued round the reserve which being mid-afternoon was pretty quiet. We settled in the empty hide overlooking the other large lake and tried to get some dragonfly pics without success - using our phone as they were too close for the long lens! We'd got a Common Darter on the bridge at the reserve entrance but that was settled on the handrail.
This time we were after flight shots - yes with the phone! - as the dragons flew back and forth around the vegetation just outside the window.
We only managed a couple of very blurry shots one of which might have been OK if the dragon had been within the depth of field - how annoying.
Heading back for a last blast at the Kingfishers we passed an interesting looking fungus - the reserve has a superb variety of fungi but they are a group we know little about so if anyone out there can identify this one we'd be grateful. We don't even possess a field guide for fungi - we did have one but it seems to have disappeared off our bookshelf sometine in the distant past.
A Raven 'cronking' overhead was another species we wouldn't have dreamed of finding here in the 80s - had to go a long way to the nearest ones at that time. 
No further Kingfisher action was reported by the photographers and we missed the opportunity for a great Jay-in-flight shot as it flew across the lake but didn't land in the nearby tree as it had apparently done earlier. The only bird about was a moulting drake Shoveler which has a face a little bit like a Yankee Blue Winged Teal. It was preening like mad and like a dog chasing its tail it spun round and round rather comically trying to nibble those hard to reach parts.
A funny looking sheet rainbow heralded the downpour that would soak us on the way back to the car - should have got a phone pic of that it was a bit weird, never seen anything like it before. Despite the short sharp shower, missing an Osprey and only seeing one of the four Marsh Harriers in the morning it was a great day out on safari.
Where to next? It's the weekend so anything could happen anywhere!
In the meantime let us know who's reaching those hard to reach places in your outback.




Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Maybe we didn't peak too soon after all

The Safari went back out for the high tide the other day . The wind was still strong but by now had too much north in it, south of west is much better direction for bringing seabirds close to shore along our coast. But it had been windy a while and any birds blown in to the bay should start to come out and past us as the tide dropped. With the wind in that direction we had to walk well over a mile up Chat Alley to find somewhere sheltered enough to put the scope up. 
An adult Kittiwake a fair way out got our hopes up but there wasn't much else about, even the local gulls were keeping their heads down. Then we spotted it, a tiny dark dot between the crashing white of the breaking waves. We stuck with it watching as it weaved its way through the maelstrom of foaming water. What an awesome little bird a Leach's Petrel (172) is. Nothing more than a scrap of feathers in the monstrous sea it barely needed more than a twist of its little tail to change its trim to glide effortlessly between the waves using the air currents to keep it on its way with hardly a beat of its wings. Like an empty crisp packet being blown along the street it wafted and wiggled past us giving great views in the scope. Nothing much else happened for a while until we picked up another Kittiwake, but this one wasn't an adult and as it got nearer it wasn't right for a youngster either - a flippin juvenile Sabine's Gull (173) - A self found lifer...another embarrassing gap on our life list filled! It gave great views in the scope as it came slowly past us just behind the worst of the surf. If the Leach's Petrel had us oohing and ahhing and telling Monty how good it was to spot one the Sabine's Gull had us punching the air and shouting "Get In!!!" much to the bemusement of some passing dog walkers...some people just don't get it do they.  
Once the Sabine's Gull had passed out of our view only a few minutes later another Leach's Petrel came in to view. This one appeared to be struggling compared to the first. It was much closer in and rather than just jinking and twisting its tail to keep airborne it was doing a lot of wing flapping and kept getting drenched by spray from the crashing waves which the first seemed to avoid with ease.
Then it was time to go unfortunately - a short but productive seawatch, most enjoyable.
We planned to get out early the following morning and do some more seawatching taking the camera with us this time but stay-a-bed Monty put paid to that idea. Instead we took him to the nature reserve after news of a Gannet sitting on the water there broke - only the second record for the reserve. Again Monty had other plans and was a devilish nightmare on the walk up from the wetlands. A walk that should have only taken five or six minutes turned in to half an hour of delays, ball thefts, sniff-a-thons and we missed the Gannet by a good many minutes! A quick scan from the Viewing Platform didn't give us anything of note on the water but a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest in the adjacent Willow tree offered some consolation. Neither were for having their pic taken though, staying well hidden in the still dense foliage...roll on autumn proper and let's get rid of those pesky leaves!
It was warm down in the dip with the trees behind us keeping the wind off, warm enough for a Brown Hawker to start flying around but when it got a bit buffeted by the wind it settled long enough for us to get a phone pic.
Out of time and out of luck it was back to Base Camp with an 'in disgrace' Monty.
Later we took him to his favourite field where we saw his friend and look-alike Richie, a Schnauser-Poodle cross (Schnoodle) rather than a Labradoodle, had been hard at work digging a huge hole which had filled with rain water. Almost looks like Wild Boar have been at work.
The mad hound dug this hole in not much more than a few minutes but what effect, if any, does this doggy behaviour have on the ecology of the field which is one of the best in town for butterflies? Is it a good think, is it a bad thing or is it just a thing? Could it bring long buried seeds to the surface or just make another heavily compressed area where all the dogs tread? One thing is for sure, once one dog has started a hole then all the others seem to want to finish it.
We tried again for seabirds this morning but had no luck at all and might have even dipped some stonkers like a juvenile Long Tailed Skua, a Velvet Scoter and yet more Leach's Petrels - aarrrggghhhhh.
Where to next? Back to Chat Alley tomorrow morning
In the meantime let us know who's doing all the excavating in your outback